x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Security turns Dubai and Abu Dhabi into fortresses

Authorities are not taking any chances and terrorism and match-fixing controversy have changed cricket's landscape dramatically.

Spectators will have to pass through heavy security to watch the matches at the grounds in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Measures are being taken by the authorities to ensure there is not any mischief.
Spectators will have to pass through heavy security to watch the matches at the grounds in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Measures are being taken by the authorities to ensure there is not any mischief.

The Zayed Cricket Stadium in Abu Dhabi and Dubai Sports City, which host the international series between Pakistan and South Africa, starting tomorrow, are both grounds characterised by eye-catching architecture.

But that is not their sole nod to modernity. Both will be guarded by a substantial security presence.

As a consequence of the match-fixing furore which tarnished the sport in 2000, and last year's ambush on the Sri Lanka team in Pakistan, cricket's landscape has changed markedly. As such, getting into the ground often feels more like visiting time at a prison than attending a cricket match.

Every spectator will enter through airport-style metal detectors and pass their belongings through an X-ray scanner, manned by armed federal police.

Dubai Sports City will be cricket's 101st Test venue, and almost certainly its most Orwellian. While you are watching the action there, Big Brother is watching you.

"There are hundreds of CCTV cameras," said Andrew Haslam, the man who has coordinated the security operation for international cricket in Dubai since last year.

The reasons for the universal vigilance are varied. Dubai Sports City was partly the brainchild of Abdul Rahman Bukhatir, the man who made Sharjah the centre of the one-day cricket world in the 1980s. Sharjah suffered greatly in the fall-out from the 2000 corruption scandal, and Bukhatir did not want his new project sullied by association.

The recommendations made in Lord Condon's report on corruption in cricket, which included having surveillance cameras trained on the door to each of the dressing rooms, were rigorously implemented.

"It really was Sharjah who knocked on our door, asking us for help in installing security and vigilance systems," Condon, the former Metropolitan Police chief, said in 2002.

When two German companies were granted the Dh300million contract in 2006, they were tasked with building a fortress as much as a cricket stadium.

The International Cricket Council (ICC), whose headquarters are nearby in Sports City, oversaw the design process and advised on security.

Much of the same goes for the Zayed Cricket Stadium. It was completed in 2004, five years before Dubai's venue, and is also fitted with a comprehensive surveillance system.

An effort to police corruption partly explains all the cameras, but the video operation is also compliant with UAE law concerning areas of mass gathering.

"Things have changed within the UAE," Haslam said. "CCTV is becoming more and more commonplace as a means of evidence capture. Wherever there is going to be mass gatherings, there will be a robust CCTV system."

Haslam, who was a bomb-disposal expert in the British Army for 20 years and the security adviser for the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester, moved to the UAE in 2004.

For the past two years he has been the general manager of AFK International, a role that has included overseeing Dubai's international cricket security operation.

His remit encompasses everything from planning public parking to readying the security forces that would be required to deal with a major incident.

"My job is all about reminding people we are in the UAE and in terms of security threats this is a benign environment," he said.

After all, there is a reason this series in being played here. No international cricket team has been willing to play in Pakistan since the Sri Lankan team bus was attacked in March 2009.

The Emirates are perceived to be a peaceful alternative, and as such have become Pakistan cricket's home away from home.

That is not to suggest the security team who service cricket across the UAE are complacent. According to Sam Botros, who was in charge of protecting the Pakistan team during their World Twenty20 campaign in the UK last year, nothing is left to chance.

"Before a team travels to any country a detailed risk assessment is compiled and from that risk mitigation procedures are put in place to minimise placing the players in harm's way," he said. "Local police, intelligence services, team security and the ICC all work together to ensure security not only for the players but their families if they travel and also the spectators and infrastructure."

A layered security plan is implemented, focused on safeguarding transport, accommodation and the stadium itself on match-day.

Ÿ Transport. The security co-ordinator, who starts planning four months before the series starts, identifies a variety of routes to and from the stadium. The idea is to take a different route and leave at different times each time the team bus goes the ground, so no pattern can be followed.

The team bus is accompanied by an unspecified number of police cars and motorcycle outriders.

Ÿ Accommodation.How much freedom the players are permitted is at the discretion of their team management. For example, in Pakistan and India, touring players seldom leave their hotels unaccompanied by security guards. Yet in the UAE they are often allowed to come and go as they please.

Security liaison officers, arranged between the police and the hotel security manager, are present on the floors where both sets of players are staying to restrict access to their rooms.

Ÿ Inside the stadium. Having a visible security presence blocking the spectators' view could impair cricket's "village green" atmosphere. According to Transguard, the Dubai-based security firm who provided 150 staff for the series between Australia and Pakistan, the trick is being seen and not heard.

"It comes down to what are clients want," said Nigel Hall, the group director of Transguard's facilities management services department. "If the clients want us to be in their face, we can do that, or if they want us to be in the background, we will be."

The number of security personnel on duty depends on a number of factors. Transguard deploy about 80 staff at Dubai's Global Village shopping venue, when as many as 100,000 people pass through on a weekend day.

But they send 195 - as part of a wider security team of 350 including the police - to the Dubai Rugby Sevens to control a crowd of 40,000. One of the determining factors is that alcohol is served at the Sevens.

"It might happen we have to decide that our normal man-guards are not necessarily best utilised for crowd-control, especially where alcohol is available," said Simon Currie, the group director of Transguard's facilities management services department.

"That is where we will use licensed event guards. It is not their opportunity to start thumping people who have had a drink. They will be used to controlling crowds like that.

"We try to meet the client's requirements and we hope for a safe and uneventful event."

pradley@thenational.ae